THE Melbourne Stars have always been seen as Melbourne’s number one team in the Big Bash League, with the Renegades seen as ‘the other guys’.
The Stars have had a dramatic fall from grace with punters at sportsbet.com.au after losing their first two clashes, crashing out from $4.50 to $7.50.
That’s three whole points, while the Renegades have been wound in from $6 into equal second favourites at $5 thanks to their big win over the Brisbane Heat.
The Renegades have only once finished above the Stars, who have made the tournament finals in every season.
And it’s early days in season five, but are we witnessing a changing of the guard?
The Renegades slaughtered the Brisbane Heat by seven wickets last week, cruising past the sizeable total of 5/180 with seven wickets in the shed.
International spinner Xavier Doherty was the only multiple wicket taker with two, but it was the batting where the high powered Renegades excelled.
Brutal opening combination Aaron Finch and Chris Gayle got them off to a flyer, whacking 38 off 25 balls, before the latter – with new custom golden bat in tow – departed for 23 off 16 balls.
From there, it was master blaster Finch and the big hitting Cam White who led the side to within striking distance, cracking a record 111 run partnership.
Finch fell for 65 off 44 balls and then White departed for 55 off 41 moments later to give the Heat a sniff, but Dwayne Bravo quickly put paid to those, hammering 22 off nine balls to bring the side home.
While it was all rosy for the ‘Gades, it has been gloomy for the Stars so far.
They opened the season with a 19 run loss to the Adelaide Strikers, who amassed 5/187 and then held the Stars to 7/168.
Seamer Scott Boland – who has been drafted into the Australian squad for Nathan Coulter-Nile – who did his shoulder while fielding for the Perth Scorchers last night – was the Stars’ only multiple wicket taker with two.
With the bat, Marcus Stionis got them off to a good start with 50 off 42, but the Stars were always behind the eight ball and, despite a whirlwind 25 off 13 balls from David Hussey and 21 off 12 from Glenn Maxwell, Melbourne just fell short.
A few nights later, they fell to the Sydney Thunder in a thriller that went down to the last ball.
The Thunder compiled 6/178 on the back of a marvellous innings from Usman Khawaja, who opened up and batted through the innings to score 109 off 70 balls, brought about by 12 fours and three sixes.
Only Andre Russell (22 off 16) and captain Mike Hussey (16 off 11) made double figures. John Hastings and Maxwell picked up two wickets each for the Stars.
But it proved to be enough for the Thunder… just.
In reply, Stionis (27 off 19) and fellow opener Luke Wright (18 off 15) got them off to a good start, but Maxwell (2) and captain David Hussey (0) fell cheaply to put them in trouble.
Enter Kevin Pietersen.
The English superstar pummelled 76 off 42 balls, including five fours and six sixes, at one point calling his shot behind square while he was mic’d up for the commentary team.
It was supreme stuff, but, when he fell, it was left to James Faulkner to get them home – and he just fell short of the task.
His 45 off 36 balls included a barrage of twos that left him exhausted.
Needing four to win off the last two balls, Faulkner’s attempt at a ramp off the penultimate ball failed to connect and he could only manage two off the last ball to finish one run short of the target.
“To work so hard to get back into the contest and go down by a run … it’s a bitter pill to swallow,” Hussey said.
“But in saying that, we probably weren’t at our best again.
“We’ve got to tinker with a few things and get back on the horse pretty quickly, or the competition will be over.
“We’re relying too much on individual brilliance to actually win the competition.”
Perhaps the Stars fatal mistake was underestimating the brilliant Khawaja, after he had just returned from a five week lay off due to a hamstring strain.
They might have forgotten that he whacked two tons in his first three innings in the test arena a couple of months ago.
“Usman Khawaja played out of his skin,” Hussey said.
“He just showed what a classy player he is.
“To be really honest I didn’t think he was that good at T20 cricket.
“I did all the planning and all the preparation you can do for one player.
“He just showed how classy a player he is, not only in longer form cricket but how he’s adapted his game in short form cricket.
“He’s shown the world he is a classy player in all three forms of the game.”
Star man Pietersen isn’t perturbed by Melbourne’s slow start
“Our death bowling — overs 15-20 — is an improvement we know we’re going to have to make,” Pietersen said.
“I think our side is strong enough to bounce back and that’s exactly what we’ll be looking to do.
“If our team clicks no one can beat us.
“We started not so well last year and then we got better.
“(New coach Stephen) Fleming and (new captain David) Hussey have brought absolutely no fear of failure.
“To go out there and have the full backing of the coaches and captains to express ourselves and play a positive brand of cricket, we’re going to come off on a couple of days and absolutely nail it.
“And on a couple of days we’ll potentially have blowouts.
“But I think the consistency will come when we identify our areas to improve over the next 48 hours.”
But it only gets tougher for the Stars, who will lose Pietersen over the festive season, as he returns to England for the birth of his child.
“He’s been a pillar of strength for us at the top of the order, not only this season but last season as well,” Hussey said.
“He’s going to be a big loss, but hopefully he comes back refreshed, recharged and rejuvenated, and can have a big back half of the year.”
Sportsbet’s Ben Bulmer reports the Stars were the pre tournament favourites, but they are on the drift, with punters preferring the Renegades, Perth Scorchers and huge movers Sydney Thunder, who have been crunched in from $12 into $5 equal second favourites.
The Renegades and Thunder are the two best backed sides after the punters jumped off the Star and Hobart ($10).
“Punters were all over the Stars and Hobart before the Big Bash League kicked-off, but the money has since dried up,” Bulmer said.
“The Renegades are now the best backed side, with $1 in every $4 wagered on them to take the title, while Sydney Thunder has been crunched after an impressive opening two games.
“The Thunder’s star-studded list looks to have finally clicked with punters starting to believe Sydney’s ugly duckling can now go all the way, while the smart money continues to suggest Hobart is a genuine shot at the title despite the experts writing them off.”
2015 KFC T20 Big Bash League champions market
Perth Scorchers ($4.75, out from $4.50)
Melbourne Renegades ($5, in from $6.00)
Sydney Thunder ($5, in from $12)
Adelaide Strikers ($7, in from $9.00)
Sydney Sixers ($7.50, steady)
Melbourne Stars ($7.50, out from $4.50)
Hobart Hurricanes ($10, out from $9.00)
Brisbane Heat ($21, out from $11)
* Odds provided by Sportsbet.com.au
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